Hello! This is just a quick foreword to explain a few things. First of all, the title is a variation of 'bête noire', a French term meaning nemesis or thorn. I feel this is appropriate, in the sense that Vince's own bête noire is himself and his fear. Also, I would like to, again, shout out my amazing friend Emily, who has really helped me to get back into writing after a long draught. Thank you very much, I love you, and I hope you stay as amazing as ever! Enjoy x
'Hospital ! Now ! x'
Vince seized his phone from his pocket, his blue eyes instantly widening. He had been pacing around the flat for an anxious hour, silently swallowing any suspicion he had about parentage or childcare. His head was abuzz with questions.
'Howard?' he shouted, in no particular direction.
'Vince?' came the concerned reply.
'Howard, I've gotta get to the hospital. Can you drop me?'
'Of course I can, little man.' Howard replied, grabbing his coat. He was urgent but not concerned. Vince appreciated that. Something about it gave him a sense of serenity. His frantic hands relaxed as he reached for the door. 'Vince?' The little man looked back to his friend. 'It's gonna be alright.'
Taking a cigarette from a crumpled packet in his coat, Vince sighed fretfully. His hands scrambled for a lighter, eventually finding one at the bottom of an inside pocket. He lit it, and quickly took his first drag.
Exhaling, he felt a wave of calm pass over him. He closed his eyes, taking in the sounds floating around in the air. The constant blare of the streetlamps hummed, whilst distant traffic rumbled by. Harsh gusts of wind whipped past him, whistling as they went. He slumped further into the hospital wall, focusing on anything but the thought of fatherhood…
'You're not allowed to smoke here.' A nurse with a tension playing about her upper lip barked at Vince, snatching him from his trance.
'There is a designated smoking shelter. It would be prudent for you to use it,' she interrupted, scorn holding her rigidly upright.
'I'll take care of this.' A familiar voice pierced through the musk of the night. Howard.
'See that you do, sir. As I'm sure you're aware, this is a hospital.' With an acidic parting glare, she stormed back into the foyer.
'What a ballbag.'
'You haven't smoked in ages.' The older man moved in no way to seize the cigarette. This couldn't have been easy for the little guy. He could have spat smatterings of wisdom at him, but what was the point? What was done, was done. Nothing was going to change the fact that, somewhere inside this hospital, Vince's son or daughter was being born.
'Howard, I can't do this.' He took another shaky drag. Howard noticed the depth of his exhale. Smoke shrouded his face, angelically framing it in the drastic darkness.
'You don't have to do anything you don't want to.'
'I can't just leave her,' he sighed, pushing out a fresh ream of smoke, 'What kind of person would I be if I left her?' He didn't look to Howard for reassurance, so the older man stayed quiet. Vince's cigarette was dwindling in the chilling breeze. 'I'll go in after this. You've found her ward, right?' Howard nodded.
'Then I'll hold her hand and, when the kid comes, I'll help it get away from us as soon as possible.'
'Help it?' Howard eyed Vince stubbing his cigarette against the dull brick wall. 'Vince, you do know how well they'll get treated in care?'
'You think I haven't thought about that? Of course I have,' he said, discarding the butt. 'Every night this week, I've stayed awake just thinking about it.'
'Well, you can change it.'
Vince turned to Howard with a look of disgust. Why was he doing this? Why was he making it harder? That night, all he wanted was to get off with some electro girl. He didn't think about anything else. Why should he have? Nothing had ever happened before. He remembered the biting rage he felt when she came to the shop and told him she was keeping it. He remembered the nights when he had woken peacefully, believing it all to be a dream. Then, he'd checked his phone and he remembered his heart sinking at the missed calls under her name. He remembered the despair that crept into his voice as he told her he wasn't going to be a dad. That he couldn't afford it. That he couldn't cope. That he didn't want it. Any of it.
And Howard, more than anyone, knew that. So just what the hell was he doing?
'How can I? I don't have a fucking time machine, Moon! I wish I did. I wish I did.' The little man broke down in tears. Howard pulled him into his corduroy jacket, collecting his sobs. Vince grabbed him back, hugging him tight around the waist. 'Howard, I-'
'Hush now,' Howard whispered, patting him comfortingly on the shoulder. Should he say it? The thought had been on his mind ever since he had first found out. 'Do you want to take it in?' Vince looked up to him with puffy eyes.
'The baby. I reckon we could take it in. Raise it.'
Vince snapped up, freeing himself from Howard's grasp.
'Are you mad?'
'Well, we'd have to run it past Naboo but-'
'Forget about Naboo! What about the money? We don't have enough to look after ourselves, let alone a kid.'
'We'll work it out. The celebradar was a great concept. We just need something like that-'
'And I'm just meant to come up with it, am I?'
'Vince, I'm trying my best here.'
'Yeah,' Vince tapped the toe of his boot against the concrete, avoiding eye contact, 'sorry.'
'But I am serious.'
The pair stood shoulder-to-shoulder in considered silence. Of course, it was an ideal situation. That way, the kid would have a real family. Vince smirked inwardly at the thought of Howard being more fatherly than usual. Yes, it was perfect in theory. But in actuality, there was so much they would be blindly agreeing to. Vince had never even had pets. Right now, he was ready to face the responsibility head-on. But there would be nights when he couldn't cope with the howling of a baby monitor, or bleaching the baby stains from his favourite clothes. He wasn't nearly mature enough, because he had never had to be before. Howard had always been there as a figure of stability. He would make a good dad. Vince would hate to let him down, but he knew he would. He would let his kid down too, and the thought of that physically hurt him. He felt a strange stabbing sensation in his stomach. Bent double, he clutched his midriff.
'Vince? Vince? Are you okay?'
He could see it now. This is how it would be. God, he was made for this. What was he going to do?
'Howard, I'm scared,' he admitted, fighting back an urge to vomit. 'I'm scared I won't take to it. What if they hate me? I get so jealous and I wouldn't want to take it out on them, but what if I did and-' Howard dropped to his knees, looking up at his dishevelled little man.
'Hey now, you listen to me. You'll be the best dad in the world. You have a way with kids. You remember that boy at the park?' Vince chuckled recalling it, unfurling his hands from around his torso. 'Yeah? That competition of who could hold on for the longest on the monkey bars?'
'Yeah, only because you let him.'
'It's because I have weak arms, like a shrimp.' The pair laughed. Vince rose back to his normal height, and Howard joined him.
'The point is, he loved you! You were high-fiving and joking for hours.'
'Yeah,' Vince's beam mellowed on his lips, 'but that's just one kid.'
'But it's a start.'
Howard was right. He was always right. There was no one in the world he trusted more. After everything, Howard was the only constant. And, if he was going to take on something like this, he could rely on Howard to be there, like he'd always been before. He nodded, feeling tears of joy trickle down his cheek.
'Let's do it.'